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This review is taken from PN Review 24, Volume 8 Number 4, March - April 1982.

SOMETHING NEW Geoffrey Strickland, Structuralism or Criticism? Thoughts on How We Read (Cambridge University Press) £17.50

In spite of its title Mr Strickland's book is not yet another survey of contemporary continental literary theory. It is an altogether different sort of enterprise, less trivially informative but more salutary in its probable effects. It originated, he tells us, in a series of weekly meetings among students of literature drawn from various departments of the University of Reading:

Few of those who came would . . . say they were an unqualified success. The claims of various 'isms', including what was known for convenience as 'traditionalism', were debated for hours on end. And though good feeling prevailed and people seemed to want to agree or at least to persuade others to see their own point of view, many meetings ended with our having nothing to take away but an agreement to differ. We weren't using words in the same way.

The example is particular but the scene general and typical of a world-not only the academic world-where the results of previous honest inquiry have become petrified and are used as the foundation stones for exclusive systems of thought and belief. Luckily for us Mr Strickland was, at best, a resident alien in this sub-world of ideology. Not for him the adoption of one system among many, the confusion of coherence or, still worse, dogmatic incoherence with truth. He did not retreat into the enclosure of an 'ism' but sought to discover whether there were certain things on which all ...

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